I am home again in North Carolina surrounded by the trappings of my mother’s life.
There are boxes piled floor to ceiling in my basement, many hastily packed in the middle of the night. Each one provides clues to who my mother was. In one box, there is a paperweight shaped like a diamond designed to catch the light, a glittery heart-shaped box, a Bible with pages dog-eared, a colorful beaded scarf and a straw hat. In another box, I find a lace tablecloth, a charcoal painting of her from 1964, a single pearl earring and personal journals written more than a decade ago.
I mull these items over as if I am seeing them for the very first time, because, in a way, I am. The adrenaline of the move, the sheer speed and determination of the process, allowed me little time to savor what these items meant. In the same way I examine her belongings, I examined her life on my last trip to her house this past weekend. I ate at the bagel place where she had breakfast, popped into the stores where she shopped and introduced myself to the clerks.
These encounters usually ended in tears for all of us. I opened the windows in her empty house and let the fresh air breeze through the shutters filling the rooms with the sweet end-of-summer smell tinged by a promise of fall. I sat on her porch and gazed at the woods behind her home, wondering how many times had she done this. Also, wondering how many times she wanted to do this, but was too stressed by a busy life to take such a moment.
All of this is part of the grief journey, an attempt to really know the person who is gone. No matter how much we think we know someone, we all essentially journey through life alone, as individuals. Death gives those left behind a singular peek into our loved ones’ world that is virtually impossible to get when they are alive.
Grief is more palpable when the work is done, after the funeral, after the house is sold and the boxes are packed because grief needs space to exist. Like the name of this blog, “Go Ask Mom,” when your mother dies the thing you miss the most is not having someone to ask.
I still think of picking up the phone and calling her a dozen times a day to tell her a funny anecdote that I know will make her laugh or, more importantly, ask her an important question. But, hopefully, as I open each box and examine a life well-lived I will learn to answer those questions myself, and, in turn, answer them for for my daughters.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.